Joseph Yun is the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Prior to his current position, he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary of state and as a deputy assistant secretary of state, where he was responsible for U.S. relations with Southeast Asia and ASEAN affairs. He also served as the director of the office of maritime Southeast Asia of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Yun joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1985 after working as a senior economist for Data Resources, Inc. His previous overseas assignments include South Korea, Thailand, France, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. He is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor.
Why is he in the news?
President Obama on June 12 announced his intention to nominate Yun as the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia. If confirmed, he will succeed Ambassador Paul Jones who has served since he was sworn in on September 8, 2010. Jones was highly successful in Kuala Lumpur, helping establish historically significant levels of bilateral political alignment.
Yun’s nomination as U.S. ambassador comes at a critical point in U.S.-Malaysia relations. Malaysia’s recent general election was the most closely contested in history and the upcoming ruling party elections could lead to a shake-up in the leadership. The U.S. administration therefore must prepare to work with Malaysia under a new political environment. President Obama has said he would visit Malaysia this year which would make him the first U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to set foot in Kuala Lumpur.
What can we expect from him?
As one of the key architects in the U.S. rebalancing policy to Asia, we can expect Yun to continue advancing U.S. relations with Malaysia. He will have a challenging brief as Prime Minister Najib Razak tries to navigate between conservatives in his party and an electorate that has expressed an urgent demand for economic and political reforms. Mr. Yun, an economist by training, understands the importance of trade for U.S. economic growth and advocates for increasing trade with Southeast Asia. Given his extensive knowledge and experience of working with Southeast Asian countries, and a charming sense of humor that blends nicely with an ability to focus disarmingly and directly on issues, Yun should be up to the task. His biggest challenge will be getting President Obama to Malaysia in October.